In a note to his Sonata per a violoncel i piano “Cerdanyenca,” Marc Migó briefly explains that the work―ambitious, as I said, long, and relentlessly chuck-full of virtuosity―was commissioned by cellist Philip Shegog, whose only special request from the composer was to find inspiration in his heritage. Migó wrote the first movement, “Al Cap del Ras,” (At the Cap del Ras) moved by that flabbergasting natural lookout (Cap del Ras) with panoramic views of the Pyrenees mountains. The second movement, “La dona de l’aigua” refers to another natural site in the Pyrenees named after the legend of The Waterwoman, a mysterious beautiful woman, a creature of the water, who eventually marries a man on the condition that her origins should never be revealed… well, no spoilers here, suffice it to say that Migó’s music does reflect the fairytale, supernatural quality of the story. After an “Intermezzo and Cadenza”, the third movement, where unabashed virtuoso Mark Prihodko in this recording shows an absolute command of his technique, the final movement, “Excursions” returns to the evocation of the landscape of Northern Catalonia and the Pyrenees, and more specifically the region of La Cerdanya. Hence the subtitle “Sonata Cerdanyenca.”
However, if Migó’s music is nurtured by the landscape and the weekend family outings from his native Barcelona (deep down, he acknowledges, he is a “city kid” raised in an urban environment), the music has no references, as one could perhaps expect, to the folk traditions of Catalonia, or Spain, for that matter. Migó’s musical language also stays away from radical experimentalism and keeps at all times tonal poles, evaded here and there, but always there to offer a sense of movement and continuity. The music is pitch-centric, true, meaning that pitch or tone, and the resulting melodies and harmonies and the rhythms that deliver them in time, are primordial in his soundscape. The score is, nonetheless, strategically idiomatic: the writing exploits essentially all that the cello can do; the instrument is used as a “cello,” not only a vehicle for abstract pitches that could be sounded by any other instrument. The listener thus encounters dozens of sound effects that are essentially unique to the cello or at least to the string family. To name a few, there are frequent glissandi, pizzicati, col legno, tremolo, con sord, harmonics, etc. These are not gratuitous effects. In the second movement, for example, the composer writes on the score sul tasto, which some treatises call flautando, i.e., flute-like, ethereal, ghostly… just like the story’s fabled Waterwoman that inspired this music.
The intensity of this “Sonata Cernadenyenca” is contrasted with the delicate poignancy of Rachmaninoff’s youthful Morceaux de salon, Op. 6 (1893). Originally written for the violin, the first piece, “Romance,” starts with a memorable theme for the violin supported by sinuous arpeggios by the piano. Later, the music intensifies by adding double-stop octaves on the violin and a dramatic piano part. The “Danse hongroise” that follows, an exoticist fantasy, contrasts in tempo―it is marked Vivace―and it is, certainly, an effective virtuoso, show-off piece, but not exempt from smart winks such as the piano seemingly echoing a musical motif from the main theme of the “Romance.”